Samsung Digimax i5|
Great looks, but not quite there yet
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Not so long ago we were surprised when a Samsung camera popped up in our editorial offices. We're used to them now. Samsung is coming on strong and they're getting better and better. Also, unlike, say, Konica Minolta which offers just a very few carefully selected models on the US market, Samsung has, literally, several dozen. Whatever style or design you prefer, Samsung has something to accommodate you, and then some. Fortunately, Samsung's PR team made the choice for us, and so we ended up with the Digimax i5. Though the picture above shows it in silver, ours came in a very attractive semi-gloss black (red is available as well).
An interesting observation here: if you really want a Nikon S3 but somehow can't justify the higher Nikon price, I swear our black Samsung i5 is the spiritual reincarnation of the black Nikon S3. They are not the same device, but what one has the other has, down to a sticker on the front that proclaims the major specs. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then someone flattered someone here.
Speculations aside, what we have with with the Samsung i5 is a seriously nice and impressive representative of the ultra-slim class. The above-mentioned similarity to the Coolpix notwithstanding, the Digimax has a design and flair all of its own. Its footprint is just about that of a credit card, a rectangle with rounded corners. At 0.7 inches it's as thin as the little Pentax and just a bit thicker than the class-leading Sony and Casio. Its handsome and very modern looking style makes it look thinner than it is. Looking at it from the side, the i5 has a black front and back sandwiching a dark-silver band that contains controls. The black parts have a unique edged geometric texture that you can see but not feel. Interestingly, though the Digimax is among the most compact cameras in this lineup, it is fairly heavy at 5.4 ounces.
Being a relative newcomer, Samsung always tries to please with performance and features. In the i5, Samsung combined an internal 3X optical zoom with a very high resolution (230k pixel) 2.5-inch LCD, a class-leading 50MB of internal memory, and an also class-leading 30X combined optical and digital zoom. The hi-res LCD is terrific, and the 50MB of memory means you can take quite a few pictures even if you find yourself without a card.
Samsung also throws in a few acronyms. There's SF. That stands for "Safety Flash" and designates a recording mode where you can shoot pictures without flash in much lower lighting conditions than is normally possible. The camera then enhances the picture, with amazing results. I am not sure SF warrants a separate button on top of the camera, but it definitely works. Then there are SHD, and that stands for the Samsung High Definition lens technology, and MPEG-4, the advanced audio/video recording standard that makes for the highest possible vid clips. The i5 can record 640 x 480 clips at 30 frames per second and you can zoom while shooting.
On the audio side, you can attach ten second voice annotations to pictures, and you can use the i5 to record up to an hour's worth of voice.
I was a bit disappointed with the menu system that is needlessly scattered, and the same goes for the controls. It's as if Samsung ran out of ideas after having designed this beautiful camera. There also isn't much in terms of features, and the "manual" mode isn't. Further, the Digimax needs its cheesy looking silver cradle with proprietary connectors for charging or talking to a computer. The good definitely prevails, but we're not quite there yet.
The Samsung's image quality performance was inconsistent, but overall it achieved a passing grade. Some pictures came out superb, other times it was struggling, especially with detail.
Not so much:
- Pleasing, attractive design
- Superb, large hi-res screen
- 50MB of internal storage
- Fewer features than expected
- Marginal menu system
- Cheap looking cradle